Do­min­ion’s planned East Coast pipe­line may ex­pand to S.C.

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - Front Page - BY SARAH RANKIN The As­so­ci­ated Press

Do­min­ion En­ergy, the Rich­mond-based util­ity lead­ing de­vel­op­ment of a dis­puted nat­u­ral gas pipe­line on the U.S. East Coast, is con­sid­er­ing a ma­jor ex­pan­sion of the project into South Carolina, ac­cord­ing to re­marks made by a Do­min­ion ex­ec­u­tive and in­ter­views with oth­ers in the in­dus­try.

Op­po­nents of the At­lantic Coast Pipe­line said that raises ques­tions about whether Do­min­ion En­ergy has with­held im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion from the pub­lic and whether the

pipe­line is even needed as ini­tially pro­posed. But busi­ness lead­ers say the pipe­line would help lower en­ergy costs and boost eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in South Carolina.

Dan Week­ley, Do­min­ion En­ergy’s vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager of South­ern pipe­line op­er­a­tions, told at­ten­dees at a re­cent en­ergy con­fer­ence “ev­ery­body knows” that the At­lantic Coast Pipe­line — cur­rently slated to pass through Vir­ginia, West Vir­ginia and North Carolina — is not go­ing to stop there, de­spite what the cur­rent plans say.

“We could bring in al­most a bil­lion cu­bic feet a day into South Carolina,” Week­ley said, ac­cord­ing to an au­dio record­ing The As­so­ci­ated Press ob­tained from a con­fer­ence at­tendee. The at­tendee re­quested anonymity out of con­cern for not want­ing to harm busi­ness or per­sonal re­la­tion­ships.

The re­marks ap­pear to be the com­pany’s most di­rect pub­lic sig­nal to date that it in­tends to ex­pand the pipe­line, though in­dus­try an­a­lysts said the po­ten­tial has been dis­cussed for years.

“It just fits into the whole idea that we’ve never re­ally be­lieved that Do­min­ion is telling us the whole truth about the project and the gas and where the gas might go,” said David Sligh, con­ser­va­tion di­rec­tor of Wild Vir­ginia, a non­profit ded­i­cated to pre­serv­ing Vir­ginia’s na­tional forests.

Do­min­ion has told the Fed­eral En­ergy Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion, which over­sees in­ter­state nat­u­ral gas pipe­lines, that the gas is mostly for power plants in Vir­ginia and North Carolina, said Greg Bup­pert, an at­tor­ney with the South­ern En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Cen­ter.

“Is the real in­tent to move most of the gas into South Carolina?” Bup­pert asked.

Ta­mara Young-Allen, a spokes­woman for the com­mis­sion, said that if the de­vel­op­ers want to ex­pand the pipe­line into an­other state, they will have to go through the full ap­pli­ca­tion process again.

Do­min­ion spokes­woman Jen Kostyniuk said “ab­so­lutely no de­ci­sion has been made about a po­ten­tial ex­pan­sion” of the pipe­line.

Week­ley’s re­marks dur­ing the South Carolina Clean En­ergy Sum­mit in Columbia in­di­cated oth­er­wise.

“Even though it dead­ends at Lum­ber­ton (North Carolina) — of course, 12 miles to the bor­der — ev­ery­body knows it’s not go­ing to end in Lum­ber­ton,” he said.

Week­ley said the pipe­line could go to­ward the coast or into the mid-state re­gion of South Carolina, depend­ing on power needs.

“You tell me, we’ll turn one way or the other,” said Week­ley, who was not avail­able for an in­ter­view, ac­cord­ing to pipe­line spokesman Aaron Ruby.

As ini­tially pro­posed, the ap­prox­i­mately $5 bil­lion pipe­line is a huge in­fra­struc­ture project that has been en­thu­si­as­ti­cally en­dorsed by busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers but sparked strong op­po­si­tion from en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and many landown­ers in its path.

With sec­tions up to 42 inches in di­am­e­ter, it would start in West Vir­ginia, cross through the heart of Vir­ginia — in­clud­ing na­tional for­est, the Blue Ridge Park­way and the Ap­palachian Trail — then bend through eastern North Carolina. Most of the 1.5 bil­lion cu­bic feet of nat­u­ral gas it could trans­port each day would be used to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity in Vir­ginia and North Carolina.

Analyst Shar Pour­reza, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and head of North Amer­i­can power for Guggen­heim Se­cu­ri­ties, said he ex­pects that the pipe­line will even­tu­ally be ex­panded as far into the south­east as Ge­or­gia or Florida, in part be­cause the clo­sures of coal-fired power plants are in­creas­ing the de­mand for nat­u­ral gas.

Nat­u­ral gas, which is cleaner than coal, has been em­braced by politi­cians from both par­ties and touted as a bridge fuel to­ward greater use of re­new­able en­ergy. Pipe­lines are also lu­cra­tive projects — de­vel­op­ers can fre­quently re­coup around a 14 per­cent rate of re­turn.

Lead­ers of busi­ness groups in­clud­ing the South Carolina En­ergy Users Com­mit­tee, the South Carolina Cham­ber of Com­merce and the South Carolina Man­u­fac­tur­ers Al­liance said they had dis­cussed the pipe­line with Do­min­ion.

“If we want more in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment, we’re go­ing to need the kind of in­fra­struc­ture that Do­min­ion can bring to the state,” said Lewis F. Gos­sett, pres­i­dent and CEO of the man­u­fac­tur­ing al­liance. “The pipe­line is es­sen­tial.”

But en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and oth­ers are in­creas­ingly ques­tion­ing the need for more nat­u­ral gas in­fra­struc­ture.

“It de­pends on whose eco­nom­ics you be­lieve, I guess,” said Lew Free­man, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Al­legheny-Blue Ridge Al­liance, a coali­tion of groups that op­pose the pipe­line.

The At­lantic Coast Pipe­line is be­ing de­vel­oped by Do­min­ion and three other ma­jor U.S. en­ergy com­pa­nies: Duke En­ergy, Pied­mont Nat­u­ral Gas and South­ern Com­pany Gas.

The fed­eral reg­u­la­tory com­mis­sion is­sued an en­vi­ron­men­tal re­view over the sum­mer that was largely fa­vor­able for de­vel­op­ers, and it is widely ex­pected to grant a cer­tifi­cate needed for the project to pro­ceed this fall.

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